I am here to get you ready for the Clash this Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. You need a primer of who has new numbers for 2023 when the green flag drops (5 p.m. ET heats; 8 p.m. ET main event, FOX). Or you need to debate with your friends who made the best offseason move.
So without further ado, here are my rankings of 2023 changes. They will be in two parts. The first is drivers with new teams. And the second is drivers who stayed with their team but changed crew chiefs.
Drivers at new teams:
1. Tyler Reddick — 23XI Racing No. 45
Reddick won three races last year at Richard Childress Racing and joins a team led by Billy Scott, an unheralded crew chief who has worked with both veterans (Kurt Busch) and drivers just learning stock cars (Danica Patrick). Scott won a race last year with Busch, and he played a role in the development of the Next Gen car. Reddick is in a position to thrive as he joins a confident team and a team whose season was upended when Busch suffered a concussion.
2. Kyle Busch — Richard Childress Racing No. 8
Busch replaces Reddick at RCR and will undoubtedly be compared to Reddick, since Reddick heads to a Toyota team that is an affiliate of Joe Gibbs Racing, which allowed Busch to walk as contract negotiations reached an impasse last summer. Busch joins a team that won three races amid turmoil last year and a team coming into its own with Randall Burnett as crew chief. The big question is whether RCR can be an elite organization and challenge for wins and a championship. Busch will play a key role for that to happen, and neither Busch nor Childress are known for their patience.
Busch talks about his transition to RCR
Kyle Busch says he has spent the offseason getting many of the little things situated as far as his transition to Richard Childress.
3. AJ Allmendinger — Kaulig Racing No. 16
This is only kind of a “new” pairing since Allmendinger drove in 18 Cup races last year for Kaulig. His three top-fives and eight top-10s show he can perform at the Cup level. With his strength on road courses and improvement on ovals, Allmendinger potentially could have a breakout Cup season five years after he left JTG Daugherty Racing without a clear path to have another Cup ride. Everything is there for this team to have a strong season, considering Allmendinger is already used to working with the team led by crew chief Matt Swiderski.
4. Ty Gibbs — Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54
The rookie Gibbs, the grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs, replaces Kyle Busch in the No. 18 car. He’s certainly ready for Cup, or as ready as any driver might be — at least from a talent standpoint. His questionable decisions at times last year will have people wondering if he can handle the rigors of the Cup schedule. It would be unfair to expect Kyle Busch numbers the first season. Actually, it would, in the sense that Kyle Busch was 20th in points as a rookie. Gibbs had one top-10 in 15 starts substituting for the injured Kurt Busch last year at 23XI. The good thing for Gibbs — he has crew chief Chris Gayle, who has Cup experience, moving with him from the Xfinity Series to Cup.
Gibbs on transitioning into full-time Cup role
Ty Gibbs describes what he thinks the biggest challenge will be as he transitions into full-time Cup racing.
5. Ryan Preece — Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41
Preece replaces Cole Custer in the SHR Cup lineup and has a crew chief – Chad Johnston – that both he and the team are familiar with as Johnston was crew chief for Preece’s two truck wins the last couple of years and was a former crew chief for Tony Stewart at SHR. The pressure is on for Preece to perform. But this group might need a little time to get going, and SHR has struggled. If the tweaks to the Ford’s nose help with the team’s competitiveness, that could be key to whether I got this one wrong and Preece should have been ranked higher.
Preece dishes on the upcoming season
Ryan Preece discusses his relationship with crew chief Chad Johnston, future expectations and proving himself at Stewart-Haas.
6. Noah Gragson — Legacy Motor Club No. 42
Gragson moves from the JR Motorsports Xfinity program to replace Ty Dillon at what was Petty GMS. He brings his Xfinity crew chief Luke Lambert, who has several years of Cup crew chief experience. But this team struggled last year and now is in another transition with Jimmie Johnson coming in as a co-owner. Johnson’s presence and leadership could help improve the team — but not necessarily right away. Gragson had one top-10 in 18 Cup starts last year as he drove select races for Hendrick Motorsports (as a substitute for the injured Alex Bowman), Kaulig and Beard.
Noah Gragson talks about working with Jimmie Johnson
Gragson has a great mentor in Johnson as he enters his Cup rookie season.
7. Ty Dillon — Spire Motorsports No. 77
Dillon managed just one top-10 at Petty GMS last year as he and the team and a rookie crew chief just did not click. Nine races where he didn’t finish certainly didn’t help things. The hope is that his 202 Cup starts will help at Spire. There’s a chance of that, but until Dillon can average a finish inside the top-20, there will be questions.
NA. Jimmie Johnson — Legacy Motor Club No. 84
OK, this is likely just a five-race deal but we can’t leave out the seven-time champ returning to the Cup Series with a small ownership stake but a big leadership role in what was Petty GMS and now is Legacy Motor Club. He’s got former Joey Logano-champion crew chief Todd Gordon calling the shots. So just how good will he be? I’d limit expectations. This is still a young organization. A couple of top-10s would be a good start.
Same driver, new crew chief:
1. Alex Bowman — Blake Harris
Bowman is the most successful driver on this list and drives for the best team (Hendrick) on this list. Harris, who replaces Greg Ives, comes over after a successful one-year stint as crew chief for Michael McDowell and several years working at JGR and Furniture Row. The key in this relationship will be confidence and trust that they are doing the right thing and in each other as well.
2. Austin Dillon — Keith Rodden
Naming Rodden as crew chief for Dillon as a replacement for Justin Alexander was a little bit of a surprise but could be a brilliant move. Rodden has experience as a crew chief working for several organizations (he was a crew chief for Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray) and most recently worked for Chevrolet. He knows how to handle drivers and he knows how to work under pressure, which there certainly is when you’re the crew chief for the grandson of the team owner.
3. Michael McDowell — Travis Peterson
McDowell obviously didn’t want to lose Harris, and they now will go with the engineer Peterson, who most recently was at RFK Racing and previously was at JR Motorsports and Hendrick. Their success will depend on whether Peterson can implement changes to improve the car based on McDowell’s feedback and if he can take the calculated risks in race strategy often needed for an organization that doesn’t have the funding of bigger teams.
McDowell on his new crew chief
Michael McDowell, who will have a new crew chief for the second consecutive year, discusses what he is looking for out of Travis Peterson.
4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Mike Kelley
Kelley already had been working at JTG Daugherty Racing in a competition adviser-type role, and now he will take over as crew chief for Stenhouse. The duo had magic in the Xfinity Series a decade ago with Stenhouse winning back-to-back titles. They weren’t able to repeat that in Cup at Roush. What might make this a better situation is that Stenhouse is the only driver at JTG, so they can tailor the car specifically for his wants and needs.
5. Todd Gilliland — Ryan Bergenty
Bergenty was car chief for McDowell the last three years and now takes over as Gilliland’s crew chief, replacing Seth Barbour, who moved to a position as the team’s technical director. Gilliland has talked about how he has to be better at the start of the race weekend and finding the necessary speed in the 20 minutes of practice — and Bergenty will play a key role. But these things don’t typically turn around quickly.
6. Cody Ware — Jerry Kelley
Ware has Kelley, a long-time car chief at Penske, as his crew chief starting this year. Ware showed improvement last year and if Kelley brings some ideas from Penske that can be applied to the Rick Ware Racing cars, there is the potential for Ware to continue to put up better numbers.
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.
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